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Sport For Life 23: North Ayrshire Active Schools

Barriers to sports being removed in North Ayrshire

The North Ayrshire Active Schools team are working with partners to remove barriers for care-experienced young people to access sport and physical activity opportunities, as well as supporting them to build their confidence and in some cases helping to increase the amount of time they spend in school.  

Care-experienced young people often face many barriers which would prevent them from taking part in sport. They may be dealing with trauma or a range of challenges in their home life and may not regularly be in the school environment or have access to transport or sports kit.

Gary Moore is an Active Schools & Communities Partnership Officer (ASCPO) in North Ayrshire, a position funded by sportscotland. Gary’s role is to work with health and social care partners, schools, communities and third sector organisations who already engage with care-experienced young people in the area others to help increase opportunities for them.

Gary said: “At the start we carried out a robust mapping exercise to identify which care-experienced young people we would target.

“We started working with a range of partners to ensure these young people were provided with a wide variety of opportunities. Our target groups were care-experienced young people living with kinship carers such as grandparents, other relatives or family friends, fostering and adoption, residential houses, social work at home, young carers and new scots.

“We need to give these young people a sense of belonging but also something to aspire to. I feel you can’t be what you can’t see.

Part of Gary’s work is to offer an experiential opportunity early on in the process. These can range from residential trips to day visits to a local leisure centre. These opportunities not only provides the young people with a positive experience, but allows them to build a positive relationship with staff. After the initial residential the ASCPO works with several partners and the Active Schools team to identify opportunities and the next steps for each participant.

One of these recent residentials took place at sportscotland national training centre Inverclyde in February 2023. Inverclyde is the first UK residential sports centre of its kind, designed for inclusivity.

Everything about the trip was tailored to ensure the facility, accommodation, activities and eating arrangements made the young people feel as comfortable as possible.

That included training for sportscotland staff by the Active Schools team so they had full understanding of the needs of the young people and how to deal with any distressed behaviours. This included trauma training, delivered by Active Schools staff and supported by North Ayrshire Council Educational Psychologists. Taking a trauma-informed approach ensured staff supporting the residential could effectively connect and support the young people.

Gary said: “What we want to do is give these young people an opportunity that they’ve never had before.

"Sport and physical activity are not always at the forefront of their minds. It might be putting food on the table or worrying about where they’re going home to after school if they’re being moved somewhere else.

“The residential is the initial engagement we use to hopefully start supporting these young people on a longer-term basis. Staff at Inverclyde were extremely accommodating for us, to the point where they changed some of their systems and processes to suit the group.

“In terms of the activities, this was co-designed by the young people, we gave the young people multiple options on what was available at Inverclyde to allow personal choice and ownership. We offered a wide variety from your conventional sports such as football, rugby and badminton. The highlight though was the opportunity to take part in non-conventional sports and activities such as the climbing wall, cycling and archery.

“Some of the smaller details Inverclyde looked at to ensure the young people were supported were brilliant. This included providing food and offering young people an opportunity to visit the centre prior to attending the residential. These small changes helped create a sense of choice, predictability and consistency which is important for all young people, but can have a significant impact on ensuring a positive connection with young people supported by the care system.”

Head of Centre at Inverclyde, Barry Fleeting, said: “The team at Inverclyde has been delighted to work with Gary and the North Ayrshire Active Schools team to build this partnership. We’re in the unique position to be able to work with groups to tailor their visits to ensure every participant has the best experience possible at the centre.

“To be able to provide these young people with new opportunities to discover physical activity, and develop themselves, is incredible.

"The feedback from Gary and the care-experienced young people has been extremely positive. We look forward to welcoming more groups from different backgrounds in the future.”

The results have been stark. Since starting their sporting journey at the residentials some care-experienced young people are now attending extra-curricular clubs, local gym facilities, holiday programmes, swimming lessons and local sports clubs, and some have been able to increase their time spent in school.

Leanne Hillan-Fowler, North Ayrshire Active Schools Manager, said: “Some young people only want to do things at home after the initial residential, so we give them home packs to help them continue in a safe environment.  Others are now involved in gymnastics and boxing clubs among many others.

“It’s wider than sport and physical activity it’s about reducing the numbers through NHS doors, it’s about making sure every young person is given the same opportunity.

"Equity is at the forefront of all Active Schools planning and delivery. Poverty is prevalent in North Ayrshire so being active is important, to make sure these young people continue to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Gary added: “We’ve had some young people who might only go to the school environment for one or two days a week. After the experiential opportunities we’ve had feedback to say some of them were now going to school for three or four days.

“We’ve had one young person from extended outreach who learns away from the school environment. After completing a year-long programme with the extended outreach staff and the ASCPO he is now returning to school to complete his fifth year. That is absolutely massive for that young person.”

Due to the success of Gary’s role two further posts have been created to support this work in North Ayrshire.

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About sportscotland national training centre Inverclyde

Sport For Life 23

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